14 July 2009

How the PCC has failed to address phone taping issues since 2005

 "We do not do money. If we did money we would have lawyers, if we had lawyers the whole blinking thing would come to a grinding halt" Sir Christopher Meyer, PCC Chairman

Following the news that Rupert Murdoch's journalists [News International] were hacking phones and using criminal methods to get their stories, and after UK prosecutors ordered an urgent review of previous case files relating to the tapping of telephones belonging to prominent politicians, sportsmen and celebrities. After Scotland Yard refused to reinvestigate the phone-hacking there's a talk of a class action by those affected.
Other prominent victims of the Sunday newspaper are said to include former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, London’s Mayor Boris Johnson, Hollywood star Gwyneth Paltrow, former Cabinet minister Tessa Jowell and celebrities Lenny Henry and Nigella Lawson. Supermodel and actress Elle MacPherson and PR guru Max Clifford were also said to have been targeted. Source

Meanwhile the Commons' Culture, Media and Sport Committee heard today the PCC's [Press Complaints Commission] Director Tim Toulmin, who stated that there is no new evidence that journalists are still involved in phone-tapping.

«Asked whether there was any evidence that phone tapping was still happening in the industry, he replied: "No, not yet. If there is any out there and anyone wants to bring any evidence before us then of course, we will look at it right away."»

«John Whittingdale, the chairman of the commons culture committee, said today that the Guardian revelations about alleged phone hacking at the News of the World "raised questions" about the extent of the practice and "might contradict" evidence given by former News International executive chairman Les Hinton.

Speaking at the start of a hearing prompted by Guardian stories that the paper's publisher had secretly paid £1m to victims of phone hacking at the tabloid, he revealed that Hinton did not want to change the evidence he gave to a previous culture committee inquiry into press self-regulation in 2007.

Paul Farrelly MP asked Toulmin whether the PCC regretted his decision not to call former NoW editor Andy Coulson during its 2007 investigation into the extent of phone hacking and other activities on Fleet Street. Toulmin said "maybe it would have been better for the PCC to have done so. The focus of this is on have we been misled?"»

«The News of the World's former royal correspondent, Clive Goodman, and a private detective were jailed in 2007 after accessing voice messages left for members of the royal family and celebrities».
We note the assurances of the Chairman of News International that Mr Goodman was acting wholly without authorisation and that Mr Coulson had no knowledge of what was going on. We find it extraordinary, however, that the News of the World was prepared to apply one standard of accountability to the £105,000 retainer paid to Mr Mulcaire and another, far weaker, standard to the substantial cash payments paid to Mr Mulcaire by Mr Goodman. The existence of a "slush fund" effectively can only further the belief that editors condone such payments—on a "no need to know" basis—as long as they provide good copy. Self-regulation must require vigilance by editors, otherwise the impression may be given that editors will turn a blind eye as long as good stories are the result, a practice of which at least some editors are guilty, according to the General Secretary of the NUJ. We also find it extraordinary that in their investigation into the case the PCC did not feel it necessary to question Mr Coulson on these points. in HoC- Culture, Media and Sport Committee Publications, 2007

«Andy Coulson also quit as editor after admitting ultimate responsibility for the tapping - although he denied any knowledge of what had been going on. He is now Conservative leader David Cameron's key communications aide.»

«The Guardian has claimed it knows the names of other reporters at the newspaper who were involved in phone tapping.»

Sources for above article extracts denoted by «» in the Guardian, Express, HoC Culture, Media and Sport Committee Publications, Press Gazette, Telegraph, Journalism.co.uk and Times.

All of this would have never made into the news if the PCC had in 2005 followed the advice by the Information Commissioner Richard Thomas, who regulates the data protection act (as well as FOIA). In 2005 he wrote to the PCC, urging it to warn newspapers editors about the methods they often use to obtain personal details.
While the PCC, controversially, is not subject to the freedom of information act, the information commissioner disclosed the letters and e-mails under FOIA. And they show that the PCC had, over a period of a year, come under heavy pressure from the information commissioner to produce “a clear public statement warning journalists and editors of the very real risks of committing criminal offences.” Otherwise, said Thomas to Sir Christopher Meyer, PCC chairman, “The PCC and the principles of self regulation will be shown in a poor light.” in FOIA Centre News 06.08.05

«Richard Thomas learnt at a lunch with Cristopher Meyer and Tim Toulmin in December 2004 that the PCC guidance note had “run into the sand”. Thomas wrote to Meyer the following week, saying: “My concern is that unless the attention of journalists and editors is drawn to the real possibility of committing criminal offences under the data protection act 1998 there is a real risk that the all too widespread practice of paying to obtain confidential information about people in the public eye will continue unabated.

“As you know, I am strongly of the view that the PCC and the principles of self regulation will be shown in a poor light unless – at the least – you are able to point to a clear public statement warning journalists and editors of the very real risks of committing criminal offences. Ideally, this would be reinforced by a clear message from the PCC as to the unacceptability of journalistic law breaking.”

“We were broadly content with the draft we saw earlier in the year… My particular concern is that journalists and editors might take unwarranted comfort from the [public interest] defence.”

“I fear that it might be assumed that simply because a journalist subjectively considers a particular story to be in the public interest, the prohibitions on obtaining personal information without consent can safely be ignored. I am satisfied that the courts would not accept this defence lightly. In other words, they would consider that the public interest in the obtaining (and presumably subsequent publication) of the information in question would have to be extremely strong to justify obtaining the information dishonestly.”

Meyer replied by saying that he had asked Toulmin to “resurrect” the guidance note, adding: “It goes without saying that the [PCC] cannot condone criminal behaviour, and if the note raises awareness about what journalists must do to comply with the act then that will be most welcome.”»
FOIA Centre Commentary
Tim Toulmin wrote a letter published in Press Gazette, after a shorter version of this article appeared in that magazine, saying: “The information commissioner was pushing at an open door as far as the PCC was concerned regarding his request for us to issue guidance about the data protection act.” “The dull truth is that the guidance was somewhat delayed by detailed queries from one of the trade bodies. It is hardly fair for us or the information commissioner to say he pressured us: when this hurdle arose we heard nothing from his office for eight months while the matter was considered further.”We say that one benefit of FOIA is that it helps the media and public go behind the PR gloss. And so it is that while Toulmin seeks to deny that the information commissioner pressured the PCC over stopping newspapers from obtaining confidential information illegally, we know the true picture. Correspondence spanning a year up until shortly before the PCC issued advice to editors over the subject in March 2005 shows that the information commissioner pressed for that guidance to be given and repeatedly asked for drafts to be made tougher: requests that met with partial success. The information commissioner’s office released the correspondence under FOIA. The PCC is not subject to FOIA, but that may yet change. Perhaps, we can then find out what’s really going on at the PCC.

After reading this, one has to ask: What good is the PCC for?

Watch the Press standards, privacy and libel inquiry at phone tapping, recorded today, with Tim Toulmin, Director, Press Complaints Commission; Paul Johnson, Deputy Editor, Guardian News & Media and Nick Davies, journalist, Guardian



Update via Journalism.com.uk: Phone hacking: Davies presents fresh evidence to the House of Commons

Nick Davies, the journalist who authored the main reports alleging widespread instances of phone hacking attempts, said that a key source had proclaimed the News International statement on Friday as 'designed to deceive'.

In addition, a number of new sources have got in touch following News International's statement of denial, the journalist claimed.

Davies has now been authorised to make public evidence which was previously kept private, he said


New evidence included:

* Email which showed that chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck and another [unnamed by Davies] News of the World reporter had been in communication with the private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, with a transcript of 35 messages from phones which belonged to Taylor and his legal advisers.

* A contract which showed former NOTW assistant editor Greg Miskiw's signature on an agreement with Mulcaire, who was using a false name.

Davies questioned the Metropolitan Police's handling of the case, criticising its assistant commissioner John Yates' statement last week, when Yates said that all relevant parties who had their phones hacked had already been contacted.

On Friday night, however, Davies said, the Metropolitan Police put out a statement saying 'the process of contacting people is underway and we expect this to take some time to undertake'.

This came out late on Friday, and was not reported by newspapers on Saturday, he added.

"I think there is something quite worrying here for all of us. I think what begins to be very worrying about all this is that we're not being told the truth," Davies said.

"It is very, very hard to resist the conclusion that News International has been involved in covering up the involvement of its journalists with private investigators who have broken the law," he said.


As if: Murdoch Unaware
in bloomberg news, 9th July (image Murdoch with News Corp CFO David DeVoe)

The Information Commission said in an e-mailed statement today that it had documented “widespread media involvement in illegally obtaining personal information.”

“Following a court order in 2008 we made available a copy of some information from our investigation into the buying and selling of personal information, to lawyers acting on behalf of Gordon Taylor,” Mick Gorrill, assistant information commissioner at the Information Commission, said in the statement. “This included material that showed that 31 journalists working for The News of the World and The Sun had acquired people’s personal information through blagging.”

News Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Rupert Murdoch said yesterday that he wasn’t aware of any payments made to settle legal cases in which the company’s newspaper reporters may have been involved in criminal activity. “If that had happened, I would know about it,” Murdoch said in an interview at the Allen & Co. media conference in Sun Valley, Idaho.



2 comments:

  1. Meanwhile all those that have had their phones hacked have to wait for the hammer to drop. Anytime now when it suits 'anyone of them can be headline news involving a private conversation or worse 'may be approached and blackmailed into not going to press with the story. All of this has cost Murdoch a mere 1 million pounds.


    IRONSIDE

    ReplyDelete
  2. Tomlin is an arrogant prick, he lies, lies, and then lies some more.

    ReplyDelete